Wayne Shorter ‘Without a Net’ (Blue Note) 4/5

After a forty-three year gap and now a venerable octogenerian, Wayne Shorter returns to the label where he cut some of his finest music as a leader and this heading a quartet that has performed together for over a decade. It is surprising given the above, then, that they should have recorded only three albums. Similar to the previous two, the latest offering is a live performance from the quartet’s 2011 tour (no indication of where precisely) and they have produced a cohesive and challenging set of numbers. As with the mid-1960s classics such as ‘Speak No Evil’ and Schizophrenia’, there is a real sense of adventure and a degree of abstraction to the playing here and it is astonishing that Wayne Shorter should still have the vitality and freedom to explore. There is a nod to previous musical escapades as on the opener ‘Orbit’ which is a re-working of the ‘Miles Smiles’ album piece with repetitive piano vamp and just a hint of menace about it with Shorter on soprano and fine improvisation from pianist Danilo Perez. A composition from the Weather Report era, ‘Plaza Real’ is a more intricate number. Of the original pieces, ‘Zero gravity’ impresses with its slight Middle Eastern theme, lengthy bass intro and delicate use of percussion. Here Shorter plays a largely supportive role to Perez. It is the latter’s natural empathy for Latin roots (Perez being born in Puerto Rico) that surface on ‘S.S. Golden Mean’ with a quote from Dizzy’s ‘Manteca’ thrown in and some lovely Brazilian samba vamps on piano which conjurs up the seminal ‘Native Dancer’ album that Shorter recorded in the 1970s. Finishing off proceedings is an ambitious twenty-three minute larger ensemble piece ‘Pegasus’ that includes the Imani Winds woodwind section. No details of any UK tour as yet, but this is a most welcome trip home to the the Blue Note stable for Wayne Shorter.

Tim Stenhouse